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1976 Media Coverage

Media -logo -time

June 7, 1976

Judgment of Paris

Americans abroad have been boasting for years about California wines, only to be greeted in most cases by polite disbelief - or worse. Among the few fervent and respected admirers of le vin de Californie in France is a transplanted Englishman, Steven Spurrier, 34, who owns the Cave de la Madeleine wine shop, one of the best in Paris, and the Academie du Vin, a wine school whose six-week courses are attended by the French Restaurant Association's chefs and sommeliers. Last week in Paris, at a formal wine tasting organized by Spurrier, the unthinkable happened: California defeated all Gaul.

The contest was as strictly controlled as the production of a Chateau Lafite. The nine French judges, drawn from an oenophile's Who's Who, included such high priests as Pierre Tari, secretary-general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes, and Raymond Oliver, owner of Le Grand Vefour restaurant and doyen of French culinary writers. The wines tasted were transatlantic cousins - four white Burgundies against six California Pinot Chardonnays and four Grands Crus Chateaux reds from Bordeaux against six California Cabernet Sauvignons.

Gallic Gems

As they swirled, sniffed, sipped and spat, some judges were instantly able to separate an imported upstart from an aristocrat. More often, the panel was confused. "Ah, back to France!" exclaimed Oliver after sipping a 1972 Chardonnay from the Napa Valley. "That is definitely California. It has no nose," said another judge - after downing a Batard Montrachet '73. Other comments included such Gallic gems as "this is nervous and agreeable," "a good nose, but not too much in the mouth," and "this soars out of the ordinary."

When the ballots were cast, the top-soaring red was Stag's Leap Wine Cellars' '72 from the Napa Valley, followed by Mouton-Rothschild '70, Haut-Brion '70 and Montrose '70. The four winning whites were, in order, Chateau Montelena '73 from Napa, French Meursault-Charmes '73 and two other Californians, Chalone '74 from Monterey County and Napa's Spring Mountain '73. The U.S. winners are little known to wine lovers, since they are in short supply even in California and rather expensive ($6 plus). Jim Barrett, Montelena's general manager and part owner, said: "Not bad for kids from the sticks."

Media -logo -nyt

Wednesday June 9, 1976
WINE TALK By Frank J. Prial

California Labels Outdo French in Blind Test

Several California white wines triumphed over some of the best Burgundy has to offer in a blind tasting in Paris recently. More startling: The judges were French.

The tasting was arranged by Steven Spurrier, an Englishman who runs a wine-shop and the Académie du Vin, a school for tourists and Frenchman alike, in Paris. The wines were limited to two types, chardonnay, the grape that makes the best whites in California and France, the cabernet sauvignon, the grape that makes the best reds in both areas.

The French judges voted the 1973 chardonnay from Chateau Montelena and the 1973 cabernet sauvignon from Stag's Leap Wine Cellars the two best bottles in the tasting. Both wineries are relatively new; both are in California's Napa Valley.

Judges are Listed

The judges at the tasting were Pierre Brejoux, Inspector General of the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine Contrôllée; Michel Dovaz of the Institut Oenologique de France; Aubert de Villaine, co-director of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti; Claude Dubois-Millot, commercial director of Le Nouveau Guide, a popular gastronomic magazine; Odette Kahn, director of the prestigious Revue du Vin de France; Pierre Tari, proprietor of Chateau Giscours; Raymond Oliver, owner of the restaurant Le Grand Vefour; Jean Claude Vrinat, owner of the restaurant Taillevent, and Christian Vanneque, wine steward at the restaurant La Tour d'Argent.

The red wine tasting will be discussed at another time. The California chardonnays in the tasting were Chateau Montelena, 1973; Spring Mountain, 1973; Chalone Vineyards, 1974; Freemark Abbey, 1972; Veedercrest Vineyards, 1972, and David Bruce 1973.

The French entries were; Meursault - Charmes (Roulot), 1973; Beaune Clos des Mouches, 1973 (Drouhin), Batard-Montrachet, 1973 (Ramonet-Prudhon), and Puligny, Montrachet "Les Pucelles," 1972 (Domaine Leflaive).

Except for Mr. Drouhin, the names in parentheses are the proprietors of the Burgundy estates where the wine was produced. Drouhin is the name of a wine shipping firm in Beaune that, in this case, probably purchased the wine from several owners in the Clos de Mouches vineyard, then blended and bottled it in the Drouhin cellars.

Each judge was asked to evaluate the wines as to color, bouquet, palate and balance and to give each a numerical rating on a scale of 20 possible points. The results: Chateau Montelena, 132; Meursault - Charmes, 126.5; Chalone Vineyards, 121; Spring Mountain, 104; Beaune Clos des Mouches, 101; Freemark Abbey, 100; Batard Montrachet 94; Puligny-Montrachet, 89; Veedercrest Vineyards, 88; and David Bruce, 63.

Regular readers will recall several similar comparisons in which the American chardonnays bested their French rivals. In both instances, the latest only six months ago here in New York, champions of the French wines argued that the tasters were Americans with possible bias toward American wines. What is more, they said, there was always the chance that the burgundies had been mistreated during the long trip from the wineries.

What can they say now? The judges included some of the leaders of the French wine establishment and there is always the chance that the American wines suffered during their long trip to France. Could Mr. Spurrier have rigged the tasting, providing lesser bottles of the burgundies?

Premium Wineries

The fact is that the best American vineyards and wineries can produce extraordinary wines. Admittedly the wines in this tasting are from the premium wineries, are in extremely short supply and cost a great deal of money - anywhere from $6 to $20 a bottle. But the same is true of the burgundies.

Miljenko Mike Grgich, the winemaker at Chateau Montelena, said he made 1,800 cases of the 1973 chardonnay; all of which has been sold. The wine was fermented extremely slowly and spent six months in French oak barrels before bottling.

The 1974 chardonnay - another 1,800 cases will be released in August, Mr. Grgich said, "The one to watch will be the 1975." He said. "I think it will be the chardonnay of the century." There will be about 5,000 cases of the 1975, he said.

The 1973 Montelena is available for $6.60 a bottle in a few stores in the New York area, including the 67 Liquor store in Manhattan, Forest Hills Liquors in Queens, Winetasters of Westchester, Syosset Liquors on Long Island and Fine Wine & Spirits in Tenafly, N.J.

Wash -post
Sunday, June 13, 1976
By William Rice

Those Winning American Wines

The latest in the continuing, if rather pointless, taste-offs pitting American versus French wines saw the Americans winning on France's home court. An "official jury" of eight Frenchman and a woman prominent in wine and food circles compared six chardonnay wines from California and four from Burgundy, then turned to six cabernet sauvignon from California and four from Bordeaux. The winner, white and red: Chateau Montelena, 1973, and Stag 's Leap Wine Cellars 1973.

Both are small vineyards with limited productions. Their wines are expensive, though that is a moot point for the Montelena as it is no longer available in Washington. Other wines from the vineyard may be found at Woodley Liquors, 3423 Connecticut Ave. NW and Harry's Liquors, 401 M St. SW. A limited quantity of the Stagg's Leap is on sale at Morris Miller Liquors, 7804 Alaska Ave. NW. The price per bottle is $7.89.

The tasting was held at L'Academie du Vin, a wine school in Paris. According to its directors, Englishman Steven Spurrier and American Patricia Gallagher, the event was not "a competitive tasting, but an opportunity to acknowledge that a young vineyard area can produce top-quality wines, given the same love, interest, skill, and money that has been lavished on European vineyards for centuries." The American entries-all from California-were hand picked and transported to Paris.

The jury included the sommelier of La Tour d'Argent, the owners of two other three-star restaurants, Taillevent and Le Grand Vefour, two wine scientists, two wine journalists and owners of Bordeaux's Chateau Giscours and Burgundy 's Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

The order of finish, including the scoring of Spurrier and Gallagher, was as follow: (F) denotes French.

Chardonnay: Chateau Montelena, (F) Meursault-Charmes '73 (Roulot), Chalone Vineyards '74, Spring Mountain '73, Freemark Abbey '72, (F) Batard Montrachet (Ramonet-Prudhon), (F)Puligny-Montrachet "Les Pucelles" (Leflaive), (F)Beaune-Clos des Mouches '73(Drouhin), Veedercrest '72, David Bruce '73.

Cabernet sauvignon: Stag 's Leap, (F)Chateau Mouton Rothschild '70, (F)Chateau Montrose '70, (F) Chateau Haut-Brion '70, Ridge "Mountain Range" '71, (F)Chateau Leoville-Las-Cases '71, Heitz Cellar "Martha's Vineyard" '70, Clos du Val '72, Chateau Mayacamas '71, Freemark Abbey '69.